Monday, November 16, 2015

Encouragement from fathers, a second view

     Despite the importance of fathers' encouragement (as noted in my post on 13 November), some women oppose their fathers' views.  Recently I have been enjoying Rachel Swaby's Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science and the World  (Broadway Books, 2015) and yesterday my reading focused on her bios of Maria Agnesi (1718-1799) and Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) and the roles their fathers played in their lives.  Agnesi was a child prodigy who wished to be a nun but followed her father's wish that she research in mathematics until his death, when she was thirty-four; she devoted the rest of her life to serving the poor.  The education of Ada Lovelace was directed by her mother who did not see her father, the poet Lord Byron, as a solid foundation.  
     Poetic expression by a daughter somewhat resistant to her father's wishes comes from our youngest-ever US Poet Laureate Rita Dove in her poem, "Flash Cards": 

Flash Cards     by Rita Dove

In math I was the whiz kid, keeper
of oranges and apples. What you don't understand,
master, my father said; the faster
I answered, the faster they came.

I could see one bud on the teacher's geranium,
one clear bee sputtering at the wet pane.
The tulip trees always dragged after heavy rain
so I tucked my head as my boots slapped home.

My father put up his feet after work
and relaxed with a highball and The Life of Lincoln.
After supper we drilled and I climbed the dark

before sleep, before a thin voice hissed
numbers as I spun on a wheel. I had to guess.
Ten, I kept saying, I'm only ten.

Dove's poem is on my bookshelf in Grace Notes (Norton, 1989).  Her poem "Geometry" is available here.

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